Introduction to the 30th Anniversary Issue

Rose, Shirley K

I am pleased to introduce this 30th anniversary issue of The Writing Instructor, for which I’ve had the privilege to serve as Editor. As one of the Founding Editors of the journal, I value the role the journal played in my own development as a teacher and scholar of rhetoric and composition, and it’s been an honor to work again with these authors who contributed to the first five years of the journal’s publication. Thirty years of work in the field provide an appropriate occasion for reflecting on the contributions the journal has made to the field in general as well as the role it has played in the lives of those who have contributed their research and scholarship, served on its editorial board and mentored its members, and sustained the journal as subscribers and readers over the years.

I offered a brief account of the origins and purpose of the journal in my "Letter to the Readers" in volume 3, number 1 (Fall 1983), our eighth issue, explaining that it was the outgrowth of a study group formed among a cohort of women who began work toward the Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Linguistics, and Literature at the University of Southern California in the fall of 1980. We gathered regularly in Shirley Rish’s studio apartment in married student housing on the USC campus in south central Los Angeles to talk about how we what we were reading in the Introduction to Composition Studies course we were taking, team-taught by W. Ross Winterowd and Louise Wetherbee Phelps, could inform our teaching. Soon the conversation evolved into articulations of a commitment to share what we were thinking and doing with others outside our graduate program. We knew then that we were among a very privileged few who had an opportunity to work at the intersections of rhetoric, linguistics, and literary studies at the Ph.D. level at the time. And we were very aware of how fortunate we were to be studying with the faculty in the RLL program at the time: Ross Winterowd, Louise Phelps, Marilyn Cooper, Betty Bamberg, Michael Holzman, and Larry Green in the English Department, Walter Fisher in the Communication Department, Osvaldo Jaeggli, Bernard Comrie, Edward Finegan, and Elinor Ochs in Linguistics. I know even better now, from the perspective of thirty years, how extraordinarily lucky we were not only to be studying with these faculty, but to have their guidance and mentoring as well as their advocacy on our behalf for institutional resources as we undertook the project of starting a new journal for the field of composition studies—one that would be devoted to pedagogical issues in rhetoric and composition studies.

The focus of this 30th anniversary issue of the journal is those first few years of the journal's publication. Five authors whose work appeared in the journal in the first five years of publication revisit their articles from the early 1980s and reflect on how the profession has developed over the last three decades and on their own professional journeys. Though many of the journal’s contributors over the years are no longer active in the profession, each of these scholars has continued to be active in the profession over the past three decades. Readers of this issue will be struck, as I was, by the connections between their early writing for The Writing Instructor and their subsequent work in the field.

The topical focus of each of these articles has also held interest over the long term. These original articles were also ones that addressed topics that have continued to be important ones in the field as it has developed over the past thirty years. In each of these new essays, as might be expected, authors offer a perspective on the development of the field over three decades as well as a perspective on the development of individual careers within that field, each revisiting his or her earlier work in a different way.

Richard Gebhardt reviews the direction writing process research and scholarship took after the mid-80s and speculates on how it might have developed differently as he revisits his essay for Volume 1, Number 4 of The Writing Instructor:“Process and Intention: A Bridge from Theory to Classroom.” As he begins his retirement, Gebhardt addresses the place of his 1982 article in the context of writing process research and the place of the writing process movement in the larger field of composition, alongside the place of the original essay in his own professional career and body of scholarship work and research. Rick’s reflections remind me once again how important a role the journal was playing at the time in circulating scholarship, because there were so few other journals in rhetoric and composition.

Les Perelman’s historical sketch of how WAC and WID programs have developed over the past 30 years revisits his essay for Volume 1, Numbers 2 and 3 (Winter/Spring 1982), “Approaches to Comprehensive Writing: Integrating Writing Into the College Curriculum.” Perelman provides a survey of the evolution of the WAC/WID movement and the fate and relative success of various WAC and WID models over the past three decades. He provides an update on the status of the programs he described in his original essay, and gives an account of the conditions that have made possible the survival and success of the program he now directs at MIT. In reading Les’ essay, I’ve been particularly struck by the difference in the resources at hand for the project of reviewing writing WAC/WID programs 30 years ago and the parallel project of the twenty-first century. In 1982, Perelman learned about the handful WAC programs only from brief published descriptions; in 2011, he has the resources of the Internet, including the International WAC/WID Mapping Project at his disposal, in addition to his own career-long immersion in the developing field of WAC scholarship and praxis.

Elizabeth Flynn revisits her essay for Volume 3, Number 3 (Spring 1984), “Students as Readers of Their Classmates’ Writing,” by providing a review of the literature on peer review over the past three decades and comments on patterns she sees in waves of peer review research and theorizing. In an epilogue, she reflects on the issues that arise in revisiting work from relatively early in one’s career and about the challenges and advantages of bringing nearly 30 years of lived experience in the field to a review of its literature. Flynn’s review of the literature on peer review over the past twenty-seven years demonstrates that most of the recent work on the topic has been in subfields of composition that were only beginning to be developed in the early 1980s: second-language writing and computers and writing. Beth’s literature review helps us understand how scholarship and research on a topic accrues and develops over time, as early work enables later work to address increasingly complex and specific questions.

In my interview with her, included here, Deborah Holdstein reflects on the ways the profession and field has changed and stayed the same, as well as the continuities and discontinuities in her professional career. Holdstein revisits her essay from Volume 4, Number 1 (Fall 1984), “Using Film to Teach Writing.” In this interview, Deborah Holdstein explores the ways connections between film studies and composition have and have not developed over the past thirty years, but she also shares her perspective on the goals of Ph.D. preparation in rhetoric and composition, as a Literature Ph.D. who “retooled” in the early 1980s to become a scholar of composition studies. Holdstein also reflects on how her experience as a past Editor of College Composition and Communication influenced her re-reading of her own early work in the field and influences the way she now values TWI’s emphasis on teaching writing over the years. I especially appreciate Deb’s discussion of the role the TWI publication played her life and in lives of other contributors—not just in terms of professional advancement, but in terms of locating a professional conversation and a finding place in that conversation.

In her essay “Answer this Simple Question,” J. Elspeth Stuckey Smith, a member of the original Editorial Board, discusses her intellectual journey from her first year of the PhD program at USC, out of which the journal came, and the work she is doing now for a company that builds infrastructure in Afghanistan. Stuckey-Smith explores the ways in which studies for her 1985 PhD in Rhetoric, Linguistics and Literature did and did not prepare her for the work she does now. Stuckey-Smith’s memoir shares her educational and pedagogical journey by connecting the dots between important places along her way, from a whites-only first-grade classroom in the rural south to a Southern women’s college; from her first experience teaching composition as an MA English graduate teaching assistant to her Ph.D. in Rhetoric Linguistics and Literature at the University of Southern California, where she was among the five founding editors of The Writing Instructor; from her grant-funded post-doctoral literacy work in Southern schools to her work as a teacher of ESL to national women in newly opened public universities in the Middle East. Like the other essays in this issue, Elspeth’s essay demonstrates that the issues that engage us are enduring ones. And that some of the lessons we must learn and relearn over the years are difficult and disheartening ones. Elspeth was one of the founding Editorial Board members, her voice among the strongest that argued that we had an obligation to not only share what we were learning but also engage others in conversation with us through the vehicle of the journal. The passion, wit, and unflinching intellectual engagement that sustained her through the graduate program at USC is evident in her influential 1991 book The Violence of Literacy (Heinemann-Boyton/Cook) and in her essay for this issue.

Not only were Ph.D. programs in rhetoric and composition relatively rare in the early 1980s, there also were few journals devoted to scholarship in the field when we launched The Writing Instructor. Freshman English News (later named Composition Studies) had been in publication since 1973 and had a relatively wide circulation; College English had been publishing work on composition since the late 1930s, College Composition and Communication had been publishing composition scholarship since the late 1940’s, and Research in the Teaching of English had begun publication in 1967; but there were practically no other journals to serve as resources for writing teachers or outlets for their scholarship. Rhetoric Review, edited and published independently by Theresa Enos, began publication at around the same time as The Writing Instructor, as did the Journal of Advanced Composition (JAC), the official publication of the Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition.

Our Editorial Board functioned as an editorial collective, sharing responsibility for developing an editorial direction, soliciting manuscripts and working with contributors, working with typesetters and print shops to produce the book itself, selling subscriptions, and preparing books for mailing. We all did everything and our friends and families helped, including Mary Kay Tirrell’s grade-school-aged daughter Ursula, who helped affix mailing labels to several issues of the journal.

After its first issue appeared in the Spring of 1981, The Writing Instructor continued to be published in print for fifteen years, always under the editorship of a collective of graduate students at University of Southern California. After a hiatus during which no issues were published, in 2001 the journal resumed publication as an internet publication associated with the Professional Writing Program at Purdue University, under the leadership of David Blakesley, a former TWI Editorial Board member during his tenure as a graduate student in Rhetoric, Linguistics, and Literature at USC. Editorial leadership continues to be provided by faculty at Purdue University, California State University at San Marcos, Clemson University, and University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

This 30th anniversary issue will be published in the journal’s internet venue around the time of the first anniversary of the death of W. Ross Winterowd, director of the Ph.D. program in Rhetoric, Linguistics, and Literature at the University of Southern California from 1982 to 1984 and again from 1987 to 1995. In that role, Ross mentored several generations of Editorial Board members and Issue Editors, serving not only as our “Consulting Editor” but also as our advocate and sometimes cheerleader. The issue is dedicated to his memory and will, I hope, serve as a token for the love, respect, and gratitude his support for TWI has won from all of us who have worked on the journal over the years.


This text was accepted for publication after an anonymous peer review process.

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